What are the keys to finding a good used motorcycle specifically for a beginner rider?
Simply put, it can be a real challenge to find a good beginner motorcycle if you don’t understand what to expect when you start looking, if you don’t understand what to focus on when you actually start to go out and look at bikes you are considering buying, and you may not even understand some basic financial aspects that could result in you taking a big financial loss.
This guide is designed to help you find a good used motorcycle for a beginner by helping you understand what the key “beginner-friendly qualities” of each type of motorcycle are and how to go about finding a good used motorcycle that will also fit your budget.
Basic Used Motorcycle Types
The guide below is written to help you understand the various motorcycle types, give you a brief explanation of the common characteristics of those motorcycle types and how those characteristics could be good or bad for a beginner rider, give you an idea of what to expect when you start looking on the used market in terms of availability, prices, etc., and finally give you an understanding of some good online tools to help you locate candidate used motorcycles.
Keep in mind that we have to use some generalities about each style of motorcycle and we realize that there are exceptions to many of the things we will provide you with below (e.g., we will talk about touring motorcycles as generally being heavier than other motorcycles but there are always exceptions). But, it will be more helpful to you if we do provide you with some generalities while acknowledging and giving you fair warning here that exceptions are almost always possible and so you should take our advice as simply some helpful data points.
1) Used Cruiser Style Motorcycles
Cruiser style motorcycles are the most common motorcycles on the road today in America as they represent about half of all registered motorcycles (*1). These motorcycles are generally more popular with riders in the 45-60 age bracket and yet they are also a popular motorcycle for beginner riders for a variety of reasons. First of all, because of their vast numbers, they are the most common style of the motorcycle on both the used and new market and so riders looking to purchase a cruiser will have a lot of choices as well as some opportunities to save money as many opportunities for finding a “bargain” will likely present itself to the patient shopper.
Additionally, because of their popularity, manufacturers make a wide variety of models w various engine sizes, frame sizes, and gross vehicle weight so there are good selections at the sub 800 cc market where most new riders will want to focus on.
Our market analysis found that there are more cruisers available (looking at nationwide market statistics and so regional or local results may vary) if a new rider is willing to spend up to $15,000 for that new beginner bike than any other type of motorcycle. When we move down into the $10,000 and $5,000 and below price points, cruiser availability is still strong and only better in the sportbike used market. If however, you are looking for a new bike, you will have the best selection of all motorcycle types as manufacturers continue to devote more new models to this genre of a motorcycle than any other.
Popular used cruisers in the 800cc and below segment can be found from all the major Japanese manufacturers (Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha) and some of the American (ex. Harley-Davidson) and British (Triumph) companies as well.
Recommended used beginner-friendly cruiser style, motorcycle models:
Yamaha’s Star line of motorcycles has been putting out great cruisers for decades now (started in 1994). They started when the Harley-Davidson cruiser days were dominating the motorcycle market (still do to some degree) and so Yamaha put out a number of “HD looking” options under the Star line. Particularly for beginner level motorcycle riders, Yamaha hit a home-run with the design of the 650 from its early days and so you can go with very older model V-star 650s (e.g., possible to go back to 1995 models), save a lot of money on the initial purchase price, enjoy Yamaha’s solid reliability, and get a feel for if the cruiser style is what you want to stick within your post beginner motorcycle rider phase.
For example, as of spring of 2021, we looked and saw an average price for a 2004 V Star 650s $3,000 range. The V Starr is a shaft drive (so it’s low maintenance as there is no chain to maintain), fuel-injected, and comes in multiple styles (from a more classic look to a custom look, and more recently the blacked-out bobber look).
If you are looking for something a little smaller, Honda has put out a Rebel 250 for many years now and these bikes will generally be at bargain prices as the simply weren’t that expensive when they were sold new. They are on the more basic side of the engineering scale as they are both air-cooled and chain drive which allowed Honda to keep the selling prices so low for these entry-level cruiser style motorcycles. And, like a lot of motorcycles (particularly budget-friendly Japanese manufactured motorcycles), the used prices can be downright cheap thereby allowing you to dip your toe into the cruiser market without laying out a lot of cash.
For example, when we updated the national averages of this model in spring of 2021, typical listing prices for a 2007 Rebel 250 were only $2,2500 and typically on the lower mileage side to boot (e.g., 10,000 miles or less). Overall, the Rebel 250 would be a great beginner motorcycle particularly for new riders who are on the smaller side of average height/weight statistics as the bike has a seat height of only about 26 inches and weighs just about 325 lbs.
2) Used Sport Bike Motorcycles
Like their more dominant (in numbers) cruiser cousins, the used sportbike market in the USA is also very strong and there are some advantages in this segment particularly for beginner motorcycle riders. Overall, this segment comprises the 3rd most common type of registered motorcycles on the road in America as they represent about 13% of registered motorcycles (*1). However, this style of motorcycle continues to grow as younger riders tend to enter into this segment more often than say cruiser style motorcycles as newer generations continue to buck the trend of riding cruisers.
There are many models of cruisers built at the 800 cc or less size and as sportbikes inherently emulate racing bikes that attempt to minimize gross vehicle weight, so do their mass-produced sportbike counterparts and so they tend to be lighter than equivalent CCd bikes in other genres. For these reasons, a sportbike may be a good option for you looking on the used market for that first bike.
With the fact that there are many sportbikes out there and that they are marketed to younger buyers often with less disposable income than older buyers, these bikes tend to be better price points than their cruiser cousins. Our market research indicates in fact that although there are more 800cc (or less) cruisers out there if you’re willing to spend up to $15K, however when we go down to the $10K and the $5K price points, you will actually find more used sportbike options than you will cruisers as the chart above indicates. One thing to note is that obviously the seating positioning and overall rider configuration while riding a cruiser vs. a sportbike is significantly different.
Cruisers, as their name implies are made to “cruise” comfortably around yet sportbikes with their more aggressive posture, place the rider in a more leaned forward position that may not appeal to you if you plan to use this motorcycle for a strong amount of touring. One other word of advice on purchasing a used sportbike for a beginner rider; you need to realize the reality that many of the people who own these motorcycles ride them hard and aggressive. So, before you buy someone’s maintenance nightmare, you need to give this used sportbike a good inspection of indicators of abuse or damage.
Recommended used beginner-friendly sportbike style motorcycle models:
As far as specific suggestions of a solid used beginner sportbike, we have a nice easy recommendation here as the Kawasaki Ninja 500 (note: some model years referred to this as the “EX 500”) has been that near textbook starter sportbike for decades (been more on the docile side of the sportbike genre). The bike has always been a great way to get into sportbikes as it is not as frighteningly fast as many of the 600 cc sportbikes out there (ironically many of the 600 cc sport bikes, even though they are at a modest 600 cc range, they are considered “supersport bikes” and known to be particularly dangerous and have the fatality rates to back it up – to read more on this, please see our guide to the best motorcycle for beginners and our highlights of the drastically higher fatality rates of this sub-category to the sportbike category).
Shorter riders need to make sure the 30″ seat height is not too high for them but the bike is relatively light for a 500 at about 390 lbs. If you’re on a tight budget, this would also be a great option as we priced 2006 in the spring of 2021 and found a typical listing price of only $2800!
If your a beginner and want to go with a sportbike for your first motorcycles, as we’ve mentioned, staying away from the sportbikes commonly referred to as “supersport” bikes is a wise choice (again, please see our guide to the best motorcycle for beginners). Honda CBR 300s are going to be a good choice for beginners due to the less extreme engine and its light gross vehicle weight rating at about 365 lbs. Also, the CBR 300 has been offering ABS as an option for many years now and so if you want that added safety factor (which is a good one considering new riders can have difficulty properly applying the front and back brakes in proper proportion to prevent front or back tire skidding) the feature only cost $300 additional when the bikes were new and so if you pick up a used one, that feature will have become even cheaper after depreciation takes its toll.
A financial benefit of going with a smaller (in terms of CCs) motorcycle is those bikes are less expensive than their bigger CC relatives and so the money you save due to the smaller cc size engine, can be applied to getting you a newer model motorcycle or help you pay for the safety gear you’ll need. When we surveyed the national average pricing of a 2019 Honda CBR in the spring of 2021, we were seeing a common going rate of about $4,500.
3) Touring Style Motorcycles
The second most numerous type of motorcycle registered on the roads in the USA today is the touring style motorcycle. These motorcycles as the name implies, are built to maximize the pleasure when taking extended motorcycle trips whether simple day-trips are multi-day excursions. What makes these motorcycles better at touring? Well, they usually have larger more powerful engines, have wider and longer frames with suspensions that maximize smooth riding, they have plenty of fairings/windshields to minimize the wind buffeting that can wear down a rider, they often include amenities few other motorcycles have like radios, CBs, speakers, back supports, built-in luggage/storage options, cruise control, and larger fuel tanks, etc. etc…
Conventional touring style motorcycles are typically the largest motorcycles on the market with engine sizes range from 1300-1800cc; far outside the range of what conventional advice is for beginner motorcycle engine sizes. Additionally, these bikes are heavy and can weigh up to 800+ lbs which again, is way outside the weight that we would like to see beginner riders have to handle. The bottom line, is that true touring style motorcycles are not what we consider to be options for starter motorcycles.
Having said that, if you however are convinced this is the route you have to go and are going to choose a touring style bike against our advice, we would like to make a few recommendations that should help to make the best of the situation (see below).
Recommended used (kind of) beginner-friendly touring style motorcycle models:
Honda motorcycle is a manufacturer known for taking some risks and putting out models that are at times, very unconventional. This company recently took a shot at combing multiple styles of motorcycles in their Honda CTX 1300. The CTX stood for Comfort, Technology, and Experience. This motorcycle seems to be a bit of a touring bike, a bit of a cruiser, as well as an everyday commuter motorcycle. The CTX 1300 comes with hard-side luggage bags and there is plenty of optional luggage and accessory items you could mount on this bike to make it a very capable “bagger” (bagger is a term that some people refer to as a touring style motorcycle loaded up with bags (luggage)).
The reason we’re mentioning this motorcycle is that for a big bike (724 lbs) it has some unique attributes that will help beginner riders (or shorter riders in general). First, Honda worked really hard to provide a low seat height at only about 29″ which amazingly is less than the CBR 300 we recommended above in the used sportbike section. Also, you can get this motorcycle in an automatic option (referred to as Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). And, the motorcycle offers an ABS option for an extra degree of safety. When we checked prices in the spring of 2021, they were going for about $8,500.
Other than something like that, you’re going to have to go with some unconventional approaches such as a vintage touring motorcycle from as far back as the late 70s when manufacturers were building much smaller touring style motorcycles like Honda’s GL 500 Silver Wing, the Triumph Trophy which was a 1200 cc touring bike, or simply get a smaller sized cruiser or standard and load it up with a fairing and luggage options like the Kawasaki Vulcan S in fuller bagger dress shown in the photo.
4) Used Standard Type Motorcycles
One of the more beginner-friendly styles of motorcycles out there is what is often referred to as “standard” type motorcycles. This genre of motorcycles most closely resembles that form and configuration of motorcycles when that means of transportation was first invented over 100 years ago. They are generally the most basic in terms of the positioning of the rider (in a more upright neutral position), they are on the smaller size in terms of CCs and weight, and they typically have the less elaborate forms of cladding around the basic components of the motorcycle (e.g., windshields, plastic fairings, luggage additions, chromes and other aesthetic additions).
These characteristics often lead to these motorcycles having significantly lower prices as new models than many of their motorcycle type counterparts (e.g., cruisers, touring, etc.) and their lighter/simpler designs lend to the view that they are a class of motorcycle that is generally a good choice for new riders.
Unfortunately, when it comes to finding a standard motorcycle for a beginner rider on the used market, their smaller market share (they represent only about 7% of the registered motorcycles in the USA (*1)) and so there just isn’t a lot of these (once again, in proportion to other categories of motorcycle) out there to find their way to the used market. For this reason, you see that they are ranked towards the bottom in terms of availability at the higher $15K price point (keep in mind, there also simply are not that many standards used bikes that would be up there at a $15k price point anyway).
The good news is that when you move down a bit to the $10K and $5K price points there availability gets better and so riders will have options. Once again, the standard style motorcycle is generally considered a great type of motorcycle for beginner riders and so you will just need to plan on being patient and checking online sources regularly and be ready to jump on something if it fits your desires and budget.
A recommendation for a good used standard motorcycle for beginner riders is the 2014 Yamaha FZ 09 was considered by many to be a beast of a bike at any price but especially for the budget price that it came in at as a new model. And so the used prices for such a model have been good as well. This bike to some has become the standard-setter for the growing “naked bike” segment (a sub-category to the standard category of motorcycles) and with its naturally lightweight, lower starting cost, and Yamaha’s rock-solid reputation for reliability and durability, this bike should make your shortlist if you are looking for a great standard motorcycle for beginner riders.
One word of warning, this bike is slightly above the 800cc range at 847ccs and one of the reasons we stretched to recommend it is due to its popularity leading to the chances that you will be able to find one of these and the used market and the fact that when you are ready to move on to something in your “post beginner motorcycle phase” you will find plenty of riders who will want to take it off your hands. But, we the added CCs and the fact that engine was a new and great design for Yamaha, this bike is wicked fast (a new Yamaha triple-cylinder motor that has an incredible amount of low-end torque = lighting fast acceleration from stop/slow speed) and so if you perhaps don’t have the maturity (see our best motorcycle for beginners guide that covers the impact rider maturity level SHOULD have on the motorcycle chosen for this new rider) then you probably need to stay away from this beast.
Recommended used beginner-friendly standard style motorcycle models:
As far as specific suggestions of a solid used beginner standard style motorcycle, for those wanting to keep the financial investment on the lower side yet score a bike that has a modern “naked bike” look you need to put the Suzuki GS 650 on your list. You can get older versions of these (say around 2005 like shown in the photo) and probably get a nice used one for under $4,000. Yet, the motorcycle has a nice modern and aggressive look that may appeal to you with its split front and back seat, its muscular tubular frame and slightly raked forward look.
These bikes are known to have been a real gem of the early style of street fighter/naked bike genre that pumped new life into the standard motorcycle segment that had been on life support for many many years. The GS weighs in just over 400 lbs and the seat height is about 31.5 inches and has a very basic and has a liquid-cooled engine that would handle slower speed urban commuting duties very well.
If you are looking to buy a beginner appropriate standard motorcycle and have some more room in your finances to go up, there are some really great retro options hitting the new motorcycle market as of lately from a wide variety of manufacturers. You see a lot of younger riders coming into motorcycling are looking for nice standard motorcycles for low price points and very trendy retro looks.
The good news for beginners is these bikes are normally relatively lightweight and have just about ideal neutral seating position. There are really too many to mention all of them here but nearly all manufacturers offer nice starter bikes for under the $8,000 brand new out the door and some standouts are Yamaha with their Sport Heritage line, Kawasaki has a very old school authentic-looking W800 (albeit NOT below the $8,000 price point) , for those looking for a new bike that is very small in weight/size and price at under $5,000 the Suzuki VanVan 200 is worth a look for this very unique looking retro standard, and then
there are some from American, Italian, and even a manufacturer in India that are definitely worth a look. On the American side, Harley Davidson recently discontinued their entry model that really made for a solid starter bike – the HD Street 500 (and the Street 750). You can still find the bike used if you want to consider it but if you are looking for a new model from an American manufacturer there are still two models that are on the larger size of the beginner bike scale.
For example, Indian motorcycle offers a very attractive somewhat cruiser/somewhat standard Indian Scout Bobber 60 that starts under $9,000 (keep in mind this is a 1,000 cc motorcycle but an impressively low seat height at only about 26 inches!), Harley-Davidson offers another cruisier/standard style model called their Iron 883 that has a truly classic bad boy look and rolls out the showroom for as little as about $9,500.
Rounding out the recommendations are a slew of other manufacturers that have been releasing brand new retro look standards that are in the beginner-friendly displacement (CCs) side of the spectrum and are generally available for about $8,000 or less. Combine this with the fact that they are nearly all come in great classic standard configuration (placing the rider in a nice upright riding position) that is once again, about as ideal as you can get for a beginner rider. If you’re interested check out the retro standards from manufactures like Italy’s Ducati and Moto Guzzi, and India’s Royal Enfield.
5) Used Dual Sport Motorcycles
The next type of motorcycle we’ll look at is unique from all the other categories in that it is the only category that enables both on and off-road motorcycle travel. This genre of motorcycles is popular with those riders who either want to be able to use their motorcycle on both paved/hard surfaces but also travel “off-road” on either gravel, dirt, or rough fire service type roads or on more intense off-road situations such as on trails and/or through woods and forests.
This is a popular category of motorcycles for those beginner riders who have experience on dirt bikes but want to move to “street bikes” but perhaps don’t have the financial resources to own two different motorcycles. This genre of motorcycles has gone through a lot of evolutions as the first dual sport motorcycles were essentially just dirt bikes with the minimum number of lights added to them to make them street legal (e.g., turn signals, brake lights, headlights) and maybe a speedometer.
If you’re a beginner motorcycle rider (or simply a former dirt only rider) looking to purchase a used dual sport motorcycle for your first motorcycle you’ll find some decent availability at the lower $10K and below and $5K and below price points, as our market research revealed there are many of these options that are also in the 800 CCs or less category that is popular with newer motorcycle riders. One note regarding this point is that if you are a true beginner (in other words, you don’t have extensive dirt/off-road motorcycle riding experience) there are some challenges with going with a used dual-sport motorcycle that we want to point out.
First of all, dual-sport motorcycles, due to their lineage and design similarities with dirt bikes, are designed to absorb drastically more severe bumps than a typical street bike. What this results in is a motorcycle that sits considerably higher than a motorcycle with a typical suspension. Also, the tires could be designed to do well in an off-road environment (e.g., knobby tires) at the expense of an on-road environment. And, as our article on the best motorcycle for beginners points out, a higher sitting motorcycle can present some challenges particularly for riders that are on the shorter size of the average height scales. Essentially what it means is that you may have to lean this motorcycle over when you come to stops and if the amount of lean is severe, it can either give the rider a very unsettling feeling and/or result in situations where the rider could accidentally “drop the bike” at a stop.
Also, the tire design that tries to balance both on-road and off-road performance may result in you having a motorcycle that is either loud and annoying to ride and/or not safe for many conditions you plan to have to ride the bike in (e.g., rain, urban traffic, etc.). All these are simply considerations for you to mull, as you decide if a dual-sport is right for you as a beginner rider. If you make the decision that it is, one last piece of advice with regards to buying a good used dual-sport motorcycle.
Because these motorcycles are made to take a beating in off-road conditions, you have to realize that if the previous owner really did put this bike to the test and repeatedly drove the bike hard or in extremely bumpy situations, you may be taking on added risk in terms of buying a motorcycle that is mechanically compromised resulting in used motorcycle maintenance costs either in the short term, long term or both. So, look over the bike very well, look for signs of damage and/or abuse, and take those into account if/when you make an offer on used dual-sport motorcycles.
Recommended used beginner-friendly dual-sport style motorcycle model:
As for recommendations for a good used dual sport motorcycle for beginner riders we’d like to recommend a dual-sport that has been a hit since it came to the market way back in 2007. In this case, Kawasaki “stuck the landing” when they came out with the Versys 650. This will be a great entry into the healthy and growing dual-sport segment for new motorcycle riders looking for a great dual sport to learn their motorcycle skills on and at a reasonable price as you will still be getting a great motorcycle by going all the way back to the early years of the Versys.
The Versys is still built by Kawasaki and so new models are available but we highly suggest against that as there is a good chance you’ll be ready to move on when you’ve gotten your motorcycle riding sea legs below you and decide what you really want. Or maybe you can just go out and get your new Versys then if you figure out, you want to stay with this rock star in the dual-sport world. And, you’ll be able to (when you as a new motorcycle rider are up for it) start to veer off of the pavement into the other terrains such a dual-sport is built to handle.
You will notice, that this, like all dual-sport motorcycles, has a higher seating position due to the fact that the suspension props the seat up so high (the bike needs this kind of clearance to soak up bumps you’ll encounter off-road) that if you are a rider on the short side, you will most likely find this intimating to contend with. However, once you get the basics down, you will enjoy the fact that you have a bike that can gracefully transition from paved roads to gravel and dirt roads/trails and introduce you to a completely another world of motorcycle riding (off-road).
6) Used Sport Touring Motorcycles
When it comes to looking for a well-used sport touring motorcycle for a beginner ride (the last style of motorcycle we’ll look at in this article), you have a lot of areas of concern and challenges finding an appropriate bike in this category. First of all, the fundamental design goals of a sport-touring motorcycle are elements that often conflict with those preferences of a beginner motorcycle rider.
For example, the fact that these are touring bikes and include a lot of extra features (e.g., larger seat, lots of plastic fairings, luggage, etc.) that are going to make them heavy, have larger engines, and also be on the more expensive side … all elements that are going to push these bikes towards being a “not good fit” for new motorcycle riders.
However, if you have considered the drawbacks and are still convinced this is the right type of motorcycle for you as a beginner rider (i.e., maybe you have ample relevant experiences to convince (e.g., years of dirt bike riding experience) you that you can handle a machine like this – check out our best motorcycle for beginners guide that discusses relevant experiences that could lead you to have a good understanding of your skillset) what you’ll find is that there simply are not going to be many options when it comes to finding a well-used sport touring bike on the used market.
Why? When these motorcycles are new they are on the pricier side because they are such capable and well-equipped motorcycles with features and amenities, they inevitably start out at a relatively high new bike price point. And, they are also going to be hard to find because they are simply the smallest segment of registered motorcycles on the road (of the major motorcycle types and not including minor segments such as “custom choppers”, etc.) at only about 3% of registered motorcycles (*1.). And lastly, there are not that many models that are produced at the 800cc or less size and so many new riders would have to be on board with driving a large motorcycle (1,000cc plus) in your formative beginner motorcycle years.
For all these reasons, you’ll see the chart above that shows you that your search will be relatively difficult as you attempt to find a bike in this genre however if you are convinced you need to go with this segment as your beginner bike, review our recommended used beginner-friendly sport-touring models section below.
Recommended used beginner-friendly sport-touring style motorcycle model:
As mentioned, most sport-touring style motorcycles sold in the USA are on the larger side of the displacement scale (typically 1,000 CCs or higher). In Europe however, they have smaller displacement sport-tourers and there was a short time that Honda brought over one of those models to the USA and so if you are prepared to be patient, willing to pay to buy a motorcycle in another part of the country (without test driving it too!?) and have it shipped to you, and/or prepared to fly on a one-way ticket take an Uber to the dealership, buy and drive a midsize sport touring motorcycle then you should be on the lookout for a Honda NT 700V.
This European styled sport tourer was sold in Europe for many years but rebadged a bit and brought over to the USA for a short run in the US market between the 2010-2013 model years. It has a beginner bike-friendly size 700 cc engine, featured standard hard side luggage (non-detachable) and an optional motorcycle trunk/backseat rest, has a balanced riding position somewhere between a sport bike’s traditional lean forward configuration and a neutral standard bike’s rider configuration, and it comes with full fairings and a mid-size windshield. This bike could thread the needle for a new motorcycle rider looking for a sport touring model for their beginner bike and yet need to stay away from the large and intimidating 1,000 cc plus sport-touring models that are the norm in the US market.
References: *1 – The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety report on registered motorcycles in the USA.